We've towed our bikes behind the motor home for many thousands of miles.
My husband and I recently made a big decision. Very big. We have decided to sell our motorcycles. It was Doug who said it first, that his reaction time isn’t what it used to be, and I am grateful that he made that call. When you’re on a motorcycle, reaction time matters!
Doug bought his 1994 Harley Davidson motorcycle in the winter of 1995, before he even had a motorcycle license. The Harley dealership delivered it while there was still snow on the ground. He took the state motorcycle safety course as soon as he could, got his license, and we hit the road, with me riding on the back. At first we rode locally; New Hampshire has some great curvy roads, and it was fun to just go for rides around the countryside.
In 1997 we took his bike on our first cross-country road trip, and that was the beginning of many adventures that we both cherish. Before you get the wrong idea, though, I must confess: we towed his bike. While I have never been one for packing light, we had only a tent and a cooler for food in the car, and we both enjoyed camping. We didn’t get a lot of riding in that year, since we spent most of the time traveling from place to place. I keep a journal when we travel, and in looking back on that trip, out of 8,100 miles, we did only two motorcycle rides! The first one was in Red Lodge, Montana; we rode around town trying to find a friend. I wrote this about loading the bike back onto the trailer at the end of the day: “It was a nightmare, but hopefully we learned what not to do when we get to Sturgis. We didn’t have enough space behind the trailer to ride the bike into a straight line, and we couldn’t back it up ‘cause it was uphill. Doug ended up lifting the back end onto the plank after it fell off. It was very scary but we were successful in the end. Whew!”
Sturgis -- it's a legend!
Then we arrived in Sturgis, South Dakota, for our first rally; it was amazing, because it was all new. We attended many Sturgis rallies in subsequent years; it’s great fun, and great people watching, too! Here are the lines that I wrote in my journal that first year: “Bikers and noise filled the air everywhere/Gleaming steel, black leather/patches and pins/beards and jeans/And so many men showing off their true loves –/But which is it –/the machine or the woman?”
After that memorable cross country trip, Doug suggested that I get my motorcycle license. “If anything ever happened when we were out on the bike, you should know how to drive it, just in case.” That made sense to me, and so I agreed, although I never had any particular desire to learn. For Christmas that year, he paid for me to take the NH Motorcycle Safety Course, and I registered for a weekend in April. What a terrible weekend it turned out to be! The temperature was in the 40’s and it poured cold rain all weekend, with maybe a few brief intervals when the icy rain gave us a little bit of a break. Doug came out on both days to bring me dry socks and gloves, and I’d sit in his warm car to thaw out a little. Later he told me how impressed he was that I didn’t quit, but it had never occurred to me that quitting was an option. I passed the tests, and earned my motorcycle license. I loved riding my own motorcycle.
My first bike was a Hondamatic. My father-in-law had it stashed in a storage shed, and when I got my license, he gave it to me. It was a very tall motorcycle, though, and I dropped it more times than I could count, because my feet couldn’t rest flat on the ground while I was sitting on the seat. Then – one day when I came home from school, Doug said, “You need a new motorcycle. It will be your Christmas gift this year, but we’ll get it now so you can get in some riding time before the weather cools.” I was dumbfounded as we piled into the car and headed for Manchester. “You can pick out anything in the store,” he said. I still didn’t know whether to believe him or not, but we entered the Harley Davidson dealership and began the search.
My beautiful Harley 883
I knew I wanted an 883, the smallest bike made by Harley. We did a quick walk-through first to see how many 883’s we would have to choose from. “Here’s a dark green one, and over there is a brand new black one,” Doug pointed out. A little more browsing revealed two more, a blue one and an older black one. Now all I had to do was choose.
“Which one do you want?” I glanced from bike to bike, and they all seemed wonderful. This wasn’t going to be easy. On my third trip past the long row of the large, full-sized machines, a distinct customized motorcycle caught my eye. It was low, and sexy, the black gas tank emblazoned with purple flames, with matching flames sewn into the black leather saddle. It was beautiful, and on a closer look I saw that it was an 883. Somehow we had missed it when we were first looking, but I knew instantly that this was the one I wanted. It was shiny and sleek, slender and well balanced, and it was definitely my bike.
After that, we rode a lot. I loved being in my own saddle. I loved motorcycling.
We took many cross-country trips over the next years, and rode in many amazing places. In Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we drive through two herds of the biggest bison we have ever seen. We found easy parking when we rode the bikes to Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming, and it was fun to ride to Devil’s Tower. We rode through Yellowstone National Park and loved Cody, Wyoming, where we rode to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.
North Dakota traffic jam. Normally I ride ahead of him, but when it comes to herds of buffalo, he breaks trail.
We’ve ridden several times through Badlands National Park, and also to Mount Rushmore, and Custer State Park in South Dakota, where we encountered more herds of bison. We rode in the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally several times, and rode in pouring rain to Tatonka, Kevin Costner’s Bison and Interpretive Center in Deadwood, South Dakota. We rode through Gettysburg National Cemetery, and we rode to the Harley assembly plant in York, Pennsylvania – where my bike was actually manufactured. We also rode the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia, and closer to home, the Kangamagus scenic highway in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, as well as Acadia National Park in Maine and the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
This shot was take in Badlands National Park, 2001. Our best summer ever.
But the best of all was the summer of 2001, the year my son Geoff was married in South Dakota. We had been there years before he met his wife, and we loved the area, so when he and Kiersten planned their wedding for that summer, we were delighted that we’d be able to spend some extended time there. We put over 1,000 miles on our bikes in a month that year, and I felt like I could finally ride intuitively. Hairpin turns in the Black Hills became fun, and when I managed to successfully ride through the “officially closed” construction of Nemo Road, I knew I had really accomplished something important. It was muddy, and in places there was not even a road bed to follow. I was terrified, but I did it. Ever since, “Nemo Road” has become my mantra in times when I’m afraid. I did it. I was a real motorcycle master.
There are so many memories of our motorcycle adventures it’s hard to stop telling the stories here. And now we’re putting it behind us – and that’s OK; there are other things we’re looking forward to. The timing of this decision is intertwined with my retirement, and needs to be acknowledged here. Of course we all know that nothing in life lasts forever. My husband and I have many great motorcycling adventures to remember, and I have to say I never in my wildest imagination ever believed that I would grow up to be a Harley-riding English teacher.
Life is good.